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Vayigash: December 15, 2018

Rabbi Randall Konigsburg

Shabbat Shalom

There is an apartment for sale in Florida, it is reasonably priced, only a short block from the beach, with a heated pool. It is a small building with nice neighbors. It belonged to my parents before they died, and this week, I went back for the first time since we sat Shiva for my mom there. It will probably be the last time I will see it as she left it.

Actually, it is not exactly as she left it. Much of our extensive family was together for the Shiva, so many items were already gone. Some of our pictures from when we were children were claimed after Shiva. My daughter Ashira took on the task of digitizing the many photo albums my father made. Many of the grandchildren took items that were special memories of their grandparents. Her Hanukkiyot were already in my home, as were some other small items that would fit in luggage, that we brought back on the plane when we returned to sit Shiva here with our BSBI family.

But there were some larger items that needed to be addressed. Much of the furniture dated back to our childhood. The dining room table was a wedding present to my parents. There were dressers that were bought for my older brothers that I inherited as I grew up. My mother’s dressers were from my mother’s parents and my sister used it in her room when she was growing up. It was nice furniture, well made from a time when people made good furniture. But it bore the scars of a household where a large family grew up. When the apartment sells, it will all be donated to good charities.

Still there was one item. Some time, long after they moved to the apartment, my father finally splurged and bought himself a reclining chair. Unlike the other furniture that bore the scars of a loving family, this chair was only used by my father after all of us children had long moved out. Even after he died, my mother never sat in it. She sat, as always on the couch by its side. Who knows, maybe when she was alone, she talked to my father as if he were still alive and sitting there. She only said that it was Dad’s chair and she would continue to sit on the couch.

My older, wiser brother said that it was not worth moving the furniture anywhere. It would be expensive and frankly, other than sentimental reasons, there was no reason to ship it out. But that chair stuck in the back of my mind. Would there be a way to move it to our home in CT? My siblings said it was mine if I wanted it. But how would I bring it here?

Michelle went to work; she called shipping companies, moving companies large and small. I think they quoted exorbitant prices because they didn’t want to bother with a job that small. My niece in Vermont wanted some of my mother’s nicer dishes but couldn’t afford to pack and ship them either. I didn’t want her not to have the dishes and I wanted the chair. Was it worth a trip back to the apartment and to rent a truck to drive it home?

The short answer is no; it was not worth it. Even if we moved it ourselves it would be spending thousands of dollars on a chair and some dishes worth maybe a few hundred. And when would I go? Cantor was going to have her baby almost any day, Rabbi Plavin was going to Israel for the Bar Mitzvah of his grandson. I really didn’t need the chair and my niece had given up on the dishes. Why go?

Michelle and I left last Monday. The plan, to rent a small truck, put what we wanted on it and drive it back. It was part nostalgia and part road trip. Fly down, pack the truck and get back before Shabbat. Simple, easy and if anyone needed me, I was never out of cell phone range.

Of course, little went according to plan. We only wanted to rent a small cargo van. No luck, the vans were for local use only, not one-way trips to Connecticut. The smallest truck was a ten-foot-long truck. It was basically an oversized van. But one-way rentals were more expensive than shipping. A different company had better prices but the smallest truck they had was twelve feet long.  It was way too big, but I got no less than two discounts on the rental and it proved to be very affordable.

We reserved the truck but when we got to Florida, the rental site only had ---wait for it---22-foot long trucks left in their rental yard. I don’t mind adventure but that was way too big for any of my needs. Phone calls were made, the search for a twelve-foot truck turned up nothing left, but there was a 16-foot truck nearby that they would let me rent for the same price and they would throw in free, a hand truck, moving blankets and some rope. My last little shipment of things from my mother’s house, would now travel home in a small corner of a very large truck. It was so big that Michelle refused to drive it at all. It was so high I had to help her get into the cab. It was so long that backing it up required help from someone standing behind.

Michelle’s niece and nephew in Florida helped us get the chair and boxes on the truck. We packed the dishes for my niece in Vermont and we took a few other things from the house that we thought we could use, tied it all to the very back of the large cargo bay. It took up almost no significant space. I thought we could leave that evening or at least get out to an early morning start. But that was not to be. Michelle’s mother wanted to see us, even if only for a day and have breakfast with her and Michelle’s sister the next morning. It was an early breakfast but alas, we could not leave when it was over. Eitan had some boxes that he had when he was a child that we never moved when we left Florida years ago. He had us leave them with Michelle’s mother and someday he would come down and see what was in them and decide what he wanted to keep. That was more than 12 years ago. He never came down and the boxes were still there. Michelle’s mother wanted to know if we would put them on the truck and bring them here, so he could go through them the next time he came for a visit? How long could it take to put a few boxes in the back of the truck? In fact, it took an hour to get them on the truck and tie them into place. My early start was now mid-morning. Unlike Connecticut, Florida is a very large state that takes most of the day to travel out of the state from South Florida.

But the weather held, the drive was beautiful, looong but beautiful. The skies were clear, the snowstorm in North Carolina had been cleared from the roads. We found we could park the truck in the way back of parking lots and park, so we didn’t have to back up. The truck did chew through a lot of gas, but most of the time we found really great gas prices. We only had to buy expensive gas twice. I got used to using the mirrors to see what was behind me. I stayed out of fast-moving traffic, I drove with the other big trucks on the road and they often let me in when I needed to move over and didn’t laugh when I parked my truck next to their big rigs.

Of course, when I got to New York, it began to snow, and we got caught in traffic. Waze, our GPS guide (we called her Wendy Waze) couldn’t figure out we were a truck and could not avoid traffic by going on the NY and CT parkways. But we got home on Thursday, long before minyan and I had time to put this sermon together before I had to be at the shul.

Was it worth the trip and the trouble? No. It was, even with the discounts, very expensive. But being at that apartment one last time, made everything worthwhile. My heart kept drawing me back because a part of me was still there. I had left some memories of my parents behind and I needed to go and reclaim them. I needed to say good-by one more time. I needed to lock that door behind me. I will still visit Florida. Michelle and I both still have family there. But that small apartment, one block from the beach, no longer has my memories locked inside. I stuffed them into a very small pale green recliner that I will use to read books by the fire on cold winter nights.

The apartment is for sale. It does need some work. But it is in a good neighborhood, an easy walk to the Atlantic Ocean.  If you are interested in it. Let me know.


Sermon given by Rabbi Randall Konigsburg at Beth Sholom B’nai Israel on Saturday, December 15, 2018.

Thu, May 28 2020 5 Sivan 5780